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Curtis Institute of Music faculty, renowned for training the world's finest young musicians, teach free online courses designed to enhance music engagement among audiences around the world.

The Curtis Institute of Music was the first classical music conservatory to partner with Coursera to create and distribute a massive open online course (MOOC). Since launching its first class in Fall 2013, Curtis has reached students, from teens to lifelong learners, in countries from Australia to Canada, from India to Brazil. A global community emerged as participants engaged in forum discussions about the course content and their own discoveries in classical music. Faculty directly interacted with students in online chats and live Q-and-A sessions.

From the Repertoire: Western Music History Through Performance, originally offered in Fall 2013, is running an encore session, beginning September 25, 2014.

The World of the String Quartet will launch in February 2015. 

Exploring Beethoven's Piano Sonatas ran in Fall 2013 and Spring 2014. Details about future offerings will be announced here.

This season's courses are supported by Linda Richardson in loving memory of her husband, Dr. Paul Richardson.

Additional support is provided by the Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation.


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From the Repertoire: 

Western Music History through Performance

From the repertoire photo

Taught by Jonathan Coopersmith and David Ludwig (Composition '01)

During the seven-week course, learners discover the stories and techniques behind diverse compositions by watching lecture and performance videos and joining online written discussions at their convenience. They may choose to apply the lessons through multiple-choice quizzes and peer-graded assignments, as well.

Enroll now in From the Repertoire. Materials will be posted weekly, September 25 through November 6. Optional assignments will extend to November 24. Watch and learn at your convenience.

About the Course

A survey of music history begins with those works that convey the artistic trends, innovations, and compositional techniques representative of their time. This course will look at key works by Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schoenberg, and Crumb, brought to life by audio or video recordings by Curtis students, alumni, and faculty. Accompanying lectures explore the historical context, composer, musical significance, and compositional design of each work. Guest interviews offer special insight into performance, improvisation, and contemporary composition. In-person and online sessions with the faculty members are being planned.

Life-enrichment learners and amateur musicians will be encouraged to engage in global online discussions about the music, as they sharpen their listening and descriptive skills. Multiple-choice quizzes will reinforce lecture material. Optional peer-graded assignments guide learners through the process of listening, researching, and writing to create their own program notes.

By the end of the course, learners should be able:

  • to understand a general survey of the development of Western classical music through the ages
  • to further develop the skills to explore the background of composers and their compositions
  • to better enjoy concerts and performances with enhanced listening skills


The first week offers an historical overview as a starting point. The remaining six weeks examine specific repertoire, with recordings of performances by Curtis students and alumni provided online. Lecture videos explore the era, the composer, and the piece, from both music history and compositional design perspectives.

Week 1: A Brief History of Notation

Week 2: J. S. BACH, Chaconne

Week 3: HAYDN, String Quartet in C major, Hob. III:32, and MOZART, String Quartet in B-flat major, K. 589

Week 4: BEETHOVEN, Grosse Fuge in B-flat major, Op. 133

Week 5: BRAHMS, Two Songs, Op. 91, and Trio in E-flat major, Op. 40

Week 6: SCHOENBERG, Pierrot lunaire

Week 7: GEORGE CRUMB, Voice of the Whale


Do I need to know how to read music to follow this class?

Score-reading is not necessary for understanding the course content or participating in the assignments. We will explore the history and basics of musical notation in the first week. Later, during explanations of specific passages of music, you will see a notated score within the video in order to follow along.

Will I need to find recordings of pieces discussed in the class?

No. All of the works are provided as audio or video within the course and/or on Curtis Performs (

When do I watch lectures?

Whenever you want! New content will be posted each Thursday at 9 a.m. (Eastern time), and you can log on and watch, join in discussions, or take a quiz whenever it suits your schedule.

May I earn a Coursera Statement of Accomplishment by taking this class?

Yes. Students who watch the video lectures, participate in forum discussions, and demonstrate a specified level of knowledge through quizzes alone or through a combination of quizzes and assignments may earn a Statement of Accomplishment from Coursera.

The World of the String Quartet

Aizuri Quartet photo

Arnold Steinhardt (Violin '59), first violin of the internationally acclaimed Guarneri String Quartet, invites music listeners to the world of the string quartet repertoire and ensemble. Journey with him and interpretive analysis instructor Mia Chung through the history and features of quartet music, colored by stories of legendary quartets and insights from the stage.

Learners will explore the history and musical ingredients of string quartets. Repertoire includes selections by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Bartók, Debussy, Ravel, Schoenberg, and Ives, among others. In addition, listeners will discover the player's perspective through legendary quartets and today's emerging artists. Throughout the course, the Aizuri Quartet, quartet-in-residence at Curtis, will explore interpretation and interaction with Mr. Steinhardt. A performance highlight is the livestream digital premiere of David Ludwig's Pale Blue Dot, performed by the Dover Quartet. 

The course comprises seven hour-long programs divided into brief video segments, available for viewing at any time. The World of the String Quartet is designed to sharpen listening and descriptive skills and to increase the engagement of concert-goers, as well as to inform the performance of amateur musicians. 

Join the watchlist to receive an e-mail message when registration begins. The course launch is planned for February 5, 2015.

Exploring Beethoven's Piano Sonatas

Biss recording photo

Taught by Jonathan Biss (Piano '01)

Join Coursera's watchlist to find out when the next session of Exploring Beethoven's Piano Sonatas will begin.

Watch lecture videos (approximately one hour per week) and join online written discussions. You may also take weekly multiple choice quizzes and/or complete two peer-graded assignments, if you wish. Encore sessions feature the same lecture videos as the original run of the course, with revised supplementary learning content. Jonathan Biss plans to meet with students in special gatherings both in-person and online.

Inspired after the first run of the course, Mr. Biss remarked on the "number of people who have told me, in one way or another, that being exposed to a performer’s relationship to the music he plays, with all its layers and complexities, has allowed them to hear music in a way they hadn’t been able to previously."

About the Course

Biss recording session photoOur relationship to Beethoven is a deep and paradoxical one. For many musicians, he represents a kind of holy grail: His music has an intensity, rigor, and profundity which keep us in its thrall, and it is perhaps unequalled in the interpretive, technical, and even spiritual challenges it poses to performers. At the same time, Beethoven’s music is casually familiar to millions of people who do not attend concerts or consider themselves musically inclined. Two hundred years after his death, he is everywhere in the culture, yet still represents its summit.

This course takes an inside-out look at the 32 piano sonatas from the point of view of a performer. Each lecture will focus on one sonata and an aspect of Beethoven’s music exemplified by it. (These might include: the relationship between Beethoven the pianist and Beethoven the composer; the critical role improvisation plays in his highly structured music; his mixing of extremely refined music with rougher elements; and the often surprising ways in which the events of his life influenced his compositional process and the character of the music he was writing.)

The course will feature some analysis and historical background, but its perspective is that of a player, not a musicologist. Its main aim is to explore and demystify the work of the performer, even while embracing the eternal mystery of Beethoven’s music itself.


In the News graphic

Philadelphia Inquirer
Ode to the joy of learning Beethoven with Biss

The Wall Street Journal

Pianist's 'Private Communion' Goes Online

BBC- Culture
Online courses: Music education for all?

The New York Times
Hey, Ludwig, There’s an App for You

WHYY (90.9 FM)/
Curtis' legendary reputation draws 25,000 to first online class 

The Telegraph
Jonathan Biss: Can the internet open up classical music to a wider audience?


Watch exclusive Curtis performances anytime, anywhere, for free. Curtis Performs features broadcast-quality HD videos of students, faculty, and alumni. 
Stream recordings of Curtis orchestra concerts, student recitals, and more. Listen now on Instant Encore or download the iPhone app.


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Laura C. Hart, senior director for digital initiatives